Thursday, December 5, 2013
Thanksgiving and Black Friday got in the way of some serious movie watching this week. Can't really complain about that though, can I? Life is good. Family is sweet. And Business is a boomin'. Started the week with Matt at The Angelika for Alexander Payne's Nebraska. It's certainly not going to make my Top Ten List this year, but Bruce Dern is a serious contender for the Oscar race. On Wednesday The Wife and I made it over to The Alamo for Hunger Games 2. Better than the first film, but the best part about the night was still the Drafthouse pre-show. SNL skit was actually pretty funny. And we came home from the movie craving real entertainment, so we had ourselves a double feature with the This Is The End & The Word's End blu rays. Before my Black Friday got on the way, I caught both Philomena & Oldboy on the big screen while my Brother-In-Law tagged along for the adventure. Probably couldn't pair two films as different as those. However, the best film I watched this week was Plunder of the Sun. Glenn Ford doing that mean bastard routine. I love it.
While at work on Saturday, I got word that Paul Walker had died. I'm happy to say that I have always been a Walker fan. The man appeared in a lot of crappy cinema (the first two Fast & Furious flicks, Into The Blue, Bobby Z), but he's also rather amazing in Running Scared. I've sung that films praises numerous times on this blog, and I'll take the opportunity again to send you running to your TV set. It is simply an amazing bit of gonzo cinema. A Grimm's Fairy Tale remake of Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog featuring possibly the greatest tribute to John Wayne this side of Garth Ennis's Preacher comic book series. Not to mention those terrifying Nosferatu Pedophiles!!!! If you haven't seen Running Scared than I demand you drop what you're doing right now and check it out. If you're looking for other great Walker flicks to tribute and you've already exhausted Fast Five, then I also suggest Joy Ride (see below) and the more recent Pawn Shop Chronicles in which Walker plays a buggin' out meth head. The man knew how to have fun on screen. I'm gonna miss ya.
Nebraska: I've been listening to a lot of conversation surrounding Alexander Payne's latest flick. From one podcast to the next - Slashfilm, Operation Kino, Battleship Pretension - one critic blasts it as a mean-spirited mockery of the midwest, and another calls it a searing character study. One thing is certain - Bruce Dern delivers a quiet, painful performance as the senile father determined to collect his million dollar sweepstakes. And as a city slicker kid who occasionally spent his summers in Taylor, North Dakota population 148, I felt a lot of kinship for Will Forte's interloper. Is it mockery? At times. Is that a bad thing? I don't know. I was always told by my teachers that it was cruel to laugh at others, and Nebraska certainly gains a lot of its comedy from pointing the finger. So maybe I'm an asshole. I enjoyed Nebraska. Not the kind of film I'll watch over & over again, and I absolutely prefer Payne's The Descendants, Sideways, About Schmidt, & Election, but I'll root for Dern come Oscar time.
Plunder of the Sun: "How hard can you beg?" Now here is a beastly little diddy that does not get the praise it so rightfully deserves. Glenn Ford, very much in the spirit of Gilda's Johnny Farrall, is an insurance investigator ensnared in an archeological heist when Patricia Medina bats her eyes across the barroom. Ford is an amazing bastard in this movie, delightfully selfish, and cool as ice in the face of danger. I absolutely love how no jackbooted thug can take this man down, and how heartlessly mean he can be to a beautiful woman when she attempts to play villain. Imagine Indiana Jones mixed with In The Mouth of Madness's John Trent and a little of Prime Cut's Lee Marvin and you get Glenn Ford's beastly idol robber.. In 2013, having recently discovered or rediscovered flicks like The Big Heat, 310 To Yuma, Gilda, and Plunder of the Sun, Glenn Ford has climbed himself to the top of my favorite "classic" actors list. He lives proudly next to Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, and Lee Marvin. Now it's time to devour the rest of his back catalogue.
Medium Cool: "I understand that you have some problems." Robert Forester is a TV cameraman attempting to navigate the civil unrest of the late 1960s. The story itself is pretty much what you expect, but Haskel Wexler's in-the-trenches documentary direction perfectly mirrors the era's primetime media assault. Remember when journalism could make a difference? Sigh.
Catching Fire: I really just don't understand the appeal of these movies. I've seen dozens of dystopian sci-fi hellholes. Some I idolize - A Boy And His Dog, Logan's Run, Soylent Green, District 9. Some I hate - No Escape, In Time, Johnny Mnemonic. But The Hunger Games and this redo sequel are just soooooo booooooring. Doesn't help that I'm not the biggest fan of Jennifer Lawrence's steely-eyed acting (minus Silver Linings Playbook, which is awesome, and her constant red carpet shit-talking). Seriously, let's see some real deal emotion lady! You just butchered a dome full of kids and all you can muster is some scream dreaming? I dig the gender reversal of asskicker Katniss & Josh Hutcherson's damsel-in-distress, but why rehash the structure of the first film? How 'bout doing something of note with these old ass tributes? Geoffrey Wright is in your movie! Use him! Phillip Seymour Hoffman is in your movie! Use him! How can a film be nearly three hours long and have so little plot? But since this flick just made a butt load of cash at the box office, I must be missing something.
This Is The End: "Call me your Prince of Persia..." This is not sophisticated satire, it's a ferociously obscene assault on celebrity culture as seen from within. I've always been a sucker for Seth Rogen's pothead comedy (Pineapple Express & Your Highness), but I don't think it's ever been funnier than it is in the moment when he & Jay Baruchel return from an L.A. Revelation to find all their Hollywood friends Left Behind at James Franco's house party. One by one, they are either swallowed up by the Earth, impaled on sharp instruments, possessed by Satan, or welcomed into the Donner Party. Their only option for salvation is to learn & live The Golden Rule. It does not go well.
The World's End: "Back to the dark ages." Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg tackle the apocalypse from a much different, far classier, smarter, and typically British perspective. I've watched the film three times now, and with each viewing I love it more and more. I am very comfortable in calling The World's End one of the year's very best films, and even if I rank it at the bottom of the Cornetto Trilogy, it's still one of the finest emotionally wrenching comedies. It also helps that it so easily Out-Star Trek's this year's abysmal Into Darkness atrocity with Simon Pegg expertly Kirking The Computer. The World's End also offers the strongest performances yet from both Simon Pegg & Nick Frost. Pegg's drunkard turned savior, Gary King never quite learns his lesson, but he comes close enough. The apocalypse is not the awful part, it's how the apocalypse warrants his stagnancy. The Loser Reigns! Just what all isolated fanboys dream! But my favorite delight is watching Frost's sober suit transform into the Pink Hulk of robotic destruction. We've all seen the slobby brute, but I don't think we've ever been blessed with a prim & proper Frost. Hard to take at first, but it's all worth it for when the shots hit the table.
The Killers: Using Ernest Hemingway's short story for the opening scene, the rest of the film traces the actions of Burt Lancaster's punched-out boxer that lead to his inevitable assassination. This is solid noir. The flashback structure prevents it from fully capturing my passion, but it's also what gives the overall story its sense of dread. There's no happy ending here. Burt Lancaster dies in the first ten minutes and there's no resurrection. The film has all the genre hallmarks, and Ava Gardner's Femme Fatale is exceptionally venomous with her dialogue. "You touch me and you won't live till morning." Don't mess with this lady folks. She'll drive you to suicide.
Philomena: Who doesn't love Judi Dench? Who doesn't love Steve Coogan? Only the soulless. Dench plays a woman determined to find the son she was forced to abandon when she was barely a child herself. Coogan is the failed journalist plunging the trenches of the human interest story to regain some hold on his career. Philomena manages to be a searing look at the hypocrisy of religion while still managing to not make a mockery of faith. Everybody wins. It's the cliche "You'll laugh, you'll cry" kind of dramedy. Well done, Mr Frears.
Oldboy: A serviceable remake. There are a few changes to the Korean original, but a lot of the horror of that film is surprisingly maintained in this Spike Lee joint. Josh Brolin is pretty damn great as the American businessman kidnapped off the streets and mysteriously imprisoned for ten years. Suddenly released, Brolin beats, bashes, and hammers his way through a variety of thugs until he finds the man responsible for his torture. Along the way he meets Elisabeth Olsen's attractive social worker and does things he shouldn't. Besides being totally unnecessary, I have a few other complaints in regards to Newboy - Sharlto Copley is far too James Bond Villainy as the billionaire beast, the film rushes too quickly towards its climax, and never properly establishes the "love" between Brolin & Olsen. And could we please stop with the CG bloodwork!?!? I hate it sooo much. Still, it could have gone down a lot worse.
We Steal Secrets - The Story of Wikileaks: "I like crushing bastards." I'd love to tell you I was a socially conscious person. But I'm a pop culture freak. I can drone on and on about the merits of Roger Corman, but can barely string a sentence when it comes to the politics of the day. I'm trying to be a better American. I probably should venture out further into the real world than the handful of documentaries I watch a year. I knew very little about Wikileaks before watching We Steal Secrets. Similar to The Act of Killing, I found it to be a rather disturbing viewing experience. What is the truth of the Red, White, & Blue? What can we as Americans accept as collateral damage? Wikileaks is incredible. Too bad Julian Assange is such a hypocritical asshole himself.
Joyride: I love Joy Ride. Co-written by JJ Abrams and directed by John Dahl, the film is the closest this century has come to crafting the classic noir screenplay. It's Detour populated with sexy young things. While on a cross country roadtrip, two brothers punk a trucker using sex as temptation, and unleash a nightmarish Duel on the freeways. Paul Walker & Steve Zahn are so much fun to hang out with that you forgive their idiotic prank and cheer them on to victory. Too bad the film doesn't have the grit to adhere to its noir heart, and falters with a too-neat climax. And Leelee Sobieski should totally Femme Fatale these bozos, but is simply relegated to the damsel-in-distress.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
This was simply one of the best weeks I've experienced this year. Matt & I spent a good chunk of it staring up at The Big Screen, and I would rather be nowhere else than in a darkened theater. Sure, we missed a good bit of the Fantastic Fest Tour last week, but Matt & I managed to spend an entire day with The Alamo Drafthouse on Sunday. I am happy to report that two of the films we watched there will land on my Top 10 List by year's end - Journey to the West & Why Don't You Play In Hell? are a couple of mindbendingly entertaining films from the East. Hopefully the Fest will return next year, and I'll make damn sure to get the whole weekend off. Midweek we took a peak at Matthew McConaughey's Oscar grabber Dallas Buyers Club, and we finished it all off with an AFI Silver screening of Kiss Me Deadly. Ralph Meeker...monster...just an unbelievably good movie.
The Prowler: "You're a real cop now, aren't you? You want everything free." During the special features, author James Ellroy nails it on the head when he labels this whackjob flick as a "Perv Noir." Van Heflyn's beat cop responds to Evelyn Keyes' distress call, and immediately slithers his way into her life. This woman just can't say no; ten minutes inside her home, Heflyn's smoking the husband's cigarettes, drinking his booze, and plotting his murder. Keyes is nearly unbearable in her ignorance, but Van Heflyn's badged monster owns this unlawful entry. When you compare the bulging glares of his sleazoid cop with the dopey sadsack hero of 3:10 To Yuma, you'll finish the credits a Van Heflyn fan for life. The Prowler's third act goes off the rails a bit with a ghost town pregnancy, but the surreal law & order showdown certainly delivers on the weirdo vibe. It's certainly a must for fans of the genre.
Confession of Murder: Unlike Van Heflyn's deputized pervert, Jae-yeong Jeong's Detective Choi is the type of badass Dirty Harry you love to root for as he bashes, gouges, and spits against the absolute worst of humanity. Unfortunately, Confession of Murder's structure wanders on too long as it manufactures its inevitable twists. There are certainly moments in this movie that I enjoyed. When fists or bullets start to fly, I really appreciated the sloppiness of the action. Whatever happens to be lying around the set is tossed into the violence; no bucket or frozen fish is safe. Again, Jae-yeong Jeong is great. He simmers rage and hate, but the film never really delivers on those emotions, opting for obvious narrative trickery instead. May I recommend I Saw The Devil, if you are looking for some real-deal Korean serial killer cinema to fuel your nightmares.
Journey to the West - Conquering the Demons: This one surprised me. I don't know why since I'm a tremendous fan of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle, and I should frickin' know better, but the early trailers for this yet-another-adaptation of the classic Chinese fable never captured my interest. Dumb ass. Journey to the West is the best fantasy adventure of 2013 - F YOU UPCOMING HOBBIT! The story of a young demon hunter struggling to obtain enlightenment as he struggles equally to sack catfish and pig monsters. And if fumbling about with cg folklore wasn't tough enough, the fool is constantly being shown up by Shu Qi's warrior princess. The film is incredibly silly and weird, but as one demon hunter fends off the affections of another, and the epic quest marches towards the mischievous Monkey King, I found myself being incredibly moved by the climactic spiritual awakening. As he had already proven with Shaolin Soccer & Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow drags genuine warmth out of cartoon hijinks. Journey to the West does all the cliche things you want from the movies - you'll laugh, you'll cry, etc. High praise.
Red 2: I dug the first flick. I kinda hated this one. John Malkovich & Helen Mirren are fun enough, but Bruce Willis is painfully checked out from this old foggie spy adventure. I've seen Moonrise Kingdom. I've seen Looper. I know the guy can still deliver a solid performance when he bothers to give a damn. But if he keeps cranking out the Red 2s, the Good Day To Die Hards, and the GI Joe Retaliations then I am going to leave him smirking across an empty theater. Of course, I could just be bitter that Red 2 left Karl Urban standing at the alter. If he had been there instead of Byung-hun Lee, then maybe I could have focused on the shockingly entertaining character work being done by Anthony Hopkins, and not the slackjawed yawn belching from its lead performer.
Dallas Buyers Club: I am so glad that the rest of the world has finally caught up to my Matthew McConaughey love...or has the Surfer, Dude simply given up the aspirations of Tom Cruisehood and plunged into the splendid world of character actor? Dallas Buyers Club is just what you think it is, a message movie circling themes of intolerance on both the personal and societal level (resulting in countless unnecessary deaths) and an opportunity for its star to horrifyingly transform himself. The cynical might dismiss it as Oscar bait, but I appreciated the narrow focus of the Buyers Club money grab. This is not just the story of a man inflicted with HIV only to magically discover that Life Is Beautiful. Sure, he gets there. But McConaughey's sex fiend dope head recognizes an opportunity to make a buck, and through his own greed witnesses the even more catastrophic avarice of Big Pharma. If you really want to get your dander up then I recommend How To Survive A Plague for further viewing.
The Set-Up: "Everybody makes book on something." Here it is. The granddaddy of all boxing stories. Pulp Fiction, Snake Eyes, Raging Bull - they all wanna piece of The Set-Up. Robert Ryan is Stoker, a mid 30s wannabe champion without a chance in hell of scoring the belt. When his manager & coach make arrangements with his opponent they forget to tell Stoker to throw in the towel. They've seriously under estimated the dying dog's determination. The Set-Up is one of the most painful of noirs thanks to the impenetrable cloud of doom circling the hero. Ryan is the very definition of "poor bastard," from nearly the first frame you know he's screwed.
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman: Who doesn't want to see Mads Mikkelsen and Til Schweiger beat the stuffing out of Shia Labeouf? That's what I call a good time out at the movies. And the kid really does get the snot kicked out of him, but these poundings stem from a series of predictable setups. Labeouf travels to Romania after his mother's ghost instructs him to strike out on an adventure, a man dies next to him on the plane, and he feels it necessary to deliver a spectral message to his daughter. It's all very cute. It's Eastern Europe so of course there are strippers and the mobsters. Meh. Not the worst thing I've seen this year, but I certainly won't remember a thing about it come Top Ten time.
The Black Power Mixtape: From 1967 to 1975, a Swedish television crew shot hours upon hours of footage surrounding the Black Power movement in the United States. Decades later it's assembled by director Goran Olsson into this masterful documentary. The film touches upon the battling philosophies of Martin Luthor King, Stokely Carmichael, Malcom X, and Louis Farrakhan. You've probably encountered much of this content in the past, but the Swedish perspective offers a fascinating angle that's not as condemning of us dumb Americans as you might think...although, it's appropriately harsh on the assholes of history.
Raw Deal: "What do I care if you're dead?" Edmund O'Keefe escapes from prison and plunges himself and two love struck dames into a vengeance quest against gangster Raymond Burr. Like the best noirs, Raw Deal concerns itself with white hot hate, and revels in the resulting emotional torture. I love how helpless O'Keefe is under the affections of both Claire Trevor & Marsha Hunt. He just wants his dough, but these girls keep getting in the way! Raymond Burr also gets an exceptional moment to showcase his villainy as he dumps scalding hot flambe upon a hapless dancing couple. I can see where Lee Marvin gets his temper from in The Big Heat.
Leave Her To Heaven: "Sometimes the truth is wicked." Cornel Wilde stumbles into a diabolical Elektra complex when he locks eyes with Gene Tierney's gorgeous socialite. The film chronicles a deeply disturbing love affair in which Wilde appears helpless against Tierney's fatherly obsession. Once again...dames. No one is safe from Tierney's perverted lust. Not Wilde, his crippled kid brother, the family ranch hand, or any beast that dare grow in her belly can escape this monster. Is Leave Her To Heaven the first color Film Noir as some have claimed? Not sure that such a thing exists, but you can't doubt Gene Tierney's talent as a Femme Fatale. She's stunningly gorgeous and filled with hate; to look upon her is to look upon the medusa. Yer done son.
Fascination: If you've been reading Matt's Week In Dorks then you've seen him slip into Jean Rollin madness. He's been pestering me to jump on board this train for some time, and I finally broke down with this whackjob flick. What's it all about? I really don't know. Some thief flees into a castle where two mysterious women keep dropping their clothes and ravaging his body. Lots & lots of surreal imagery - a bloody butcher barn exchange opens the film, and it only gets more nonsensical from there. Of course I enjoyed it. Am I ready to go all in like Matt? Hmmmmm...not yet. I'll give another Rollin flick a try, but apparently, I need more in my films than dreamscape boobs.
Someone Behind The Door: Two weeks ago I had never heard of this film, but then I encountered a random Best Of List online (which I currently can't track down) that put Someone Behind The Door at the very top of Charles Bronson's canon. Better than Death Wish? Mr. Majestyk? Once Upon A Time In The West? Certainly not better than Death Wish 3!?!?!?!? This random troll thought so, and I had to find out. Well, I wouldn't rank it at the top of my list, but Someone Behind The Door is pretty damn good. Bronson plays a drifter who stumbles into Anthony Perkins's hospital with some scratches on his arm and absolutely no recollection of who he is. Amnesia...yeah, it's one of those. Bronson is solid as this broken man hunting for identity, but it's really Anthony Perkins's show. The kindly doctor is not so kind; he uses Bronson's blank slate as a means of punishing his adulterous wife, but how far will this revenge go - murder? The man is Psycho after all. Someone Behind The Door is certainly worth a look, and you might as well snag the DVD for a couple bucks online.
Just Like Being There: A simple talking heads documentary detailing the resurgence of illustration in regards to concert and movie posters. The stuff of internet dreams & nightmares. I was definitely bit by the Mondo bug a few years back, and I had a streak there in which I desperately haunted ebay and other back channels for the must-have screenprints (Tyler Stout's Wrath of Khan & Assault on Precinct 13 being my favorite gets). Now it's nearly impossible to score a Mondo on the release date, and I've lost the thrill of the hunt. Of course, there are other companies out there doing work of equal value, even if it doesn't make Entertainment Weekly's radar. Anyway, there isn't much to this doc. It's cool to get some interviews from folks like Daniel Danger, Justin Ishmael, and Drew Struzan, but there is nothing new to be gained here unless you have only the slimmest of surface knowledge.
Kiss Me Deadly: "You don't taste like anyone I know." I've seen this flick a half dozen times now (twice this year now), and it has quickly risen to the top of my all time favorites. Ralph Meeker's private dick picks up a crazy dame on the side of the road, and his life is propelled down a Kafkan spiral to Armageddon. Full on Film Noir Horror, and Meeker is the blunt instrument of our ultimate doom. Men don't get much tougher or downright stupid evil than Meeker's Mike Hammer. Not sure if this is what Mickey Spillane had in mind, but it's the final statement on a genre of deadly stubborn, thick-headed misogynists. And it's totally badass. I have no idea why every random lady falls into Meeker's arms, or why he can't seem to give a damn about them in his quest for the Great Whatsit, but it is painfully funny to watch him bounce off these ladies until that final Fatale strikes. What's in the box? Something much worse than Gwyneth Paltrow's pretty little head. Kiss Me Deadly is the strangest chunk of noir, and it climaxes in what is probably cinema's greatest grim climax.
Detour: "For that kind of dough, I'd cut my leg off." Film Noir is a genre of sadsacks, but the saddest sack of all is Tom Neal's lovelorn hitch-hiker. While on the road to reclaim his starstruck lover, Neal thumbs his way into the wrong car. As they often do, a corpse materializes. Neal thinks the easiest option is to snatch it's identity and glide into the Golden State. Naturally a woman appears to ruin his life. Claudia Drake might not be the finest of actresses, but she nails the shrill vocal venom and that accompanying hateful stare. Two pieces of scum made for each other, and the entertainment is watching them bring about their own ruin. Not my favorite Noir, but whenever someone mentions the genre Detour is the first film that pops into mind.
City Lights: The Wife & I watched this Saturday afternoon, and we had a blast laughing at The Tramp's romantic plight. Chaplin falls hard for a blind flower girl, and when he becomes chummy with a drunk millionaire, he finds the monetary means to win her heart. Unfortunately, the millionaire has no recollection of our man when he's sober. Miscommunication and slapstick hijinks ensue. As usual, Criterion does a bang-up job with this Chaplin release, and City Lights stands out even amongst other silent classics like Modern Times & The Gold Rush. Those thinking that the silent era is best left to the historians are missing out on some serious comic gold. I'd pit Chaplin against any number of generic Vince Vaughn duds. Do yourself a favor and give The Tramp a try.
While it certainly had nothing on the previous week’s Fantastic Fest, this Week in Dork was still nice. I read a full book and finally finished another I’d been nearly done with for weeks, got out to see a film, and cranked out a few more Criterions. Not bad.
Speedway: Fairly standard Elvis picture. It’s not bad, and has some good bits. But it’s not especially memorable. The songs aren’t great, and the plot feels like it’s already been done in another Elvis movie or two. There are much better Elvis movies.
Marketa Lazarova: This movie looks fantastic, and it feels pretty darned medieval. The people are rough and toothless, brutal monsters suffering by firelight in the bitter cold of snowy darkness. I had a problem following all the various relationships between characters. I know there was some kind of pattern in the dealings. Some folk wanted revenge or something, some people wanted money or crops or whatever. There was an angry lord. But who was working for whom, and why, and what they were all doing…I don’t know. There’s stuff about paganism and Christianity, and the general brutality of men. But I don’t know what the heck was going on most of the time. The sound design is extremely weird, and makes the film feel very unreal. It’s not even ADR, it’s like dialog for a separate film was recorded in an echoing church. (edit: What this review doesn't get across is that I couldn't get the movie out of my head for days, and in the end, I think it was kind of amazing; and I know I'll be watching it again).
Nebraska: I grew up in ‘small town America.’ With apologies to my friends and family that still live there, it frickin’ sucked. And this movie captures the awful, petty, depression of the whole thing. There are scenes I swear I lived through. I think I knew half these people. The cast does a fine job, and everyone feels totally right for this sort of thing. Bruce Dern is excellent, and Will Forte is surprisingly good. I laughed quite a bit, but admittedly, some of that laughter was from horror.
The Silence: Hey, do you like feeling good about life? Well then, don’t watch this. The third in Ingmar Bergman’s ‘trilogy of faith,’ this haunting story of a couple sisters (…really?) and one’s child staying in a hotel is aesthetically beautiful, and psychologically ugly. The film cooks with uncomfortable erotisism. And there are a lot of awkward questions you’ll find yourself asking about who these people are and what their past was like. And what’s up with the kindly old waiter? He’s awesome, right?
Design for Living: A wonderfully kinky comedy from the Good ‘ol Days before the Good ‘ol Days everyone’s always talking about. This isn’t the chaste, clean-cut comedy of the 40s and 50s, this is sex-charged, full of dry wit and ribaldry. I sometimes wonder what movies would be like if there hadn’t been the prudish backlash of the 30s through the 50s (and again, if to a lesser degree, in the late 80s through the early 00’s). Though I would argue that the Hayes Codes forced writers to become much more clever in their dialog, with innuendo and double meanings, movies like this are a reminder that writers were already quite clever before necessity mothered invention. This film is an absolute must.
Peter Ibbetson: A weird little kid grows up to be a contrary architect. He’s stuck on a girl from his youth, and gets into all sorts of trouble over her. It’s all fairly forgettable melodrama. Certainly not a movie I need to see again, it’s mostly noteworthy for having Gary Cooper and a young Ida Lupino. But it’s nothing to work hard at finding. It’s no classic.
I finished reading Alan Dean Foster’s Icerigger, which was a very cool classic space opera. I’ve got to get back into reading more sci-fi. There are so many books I want to read.
The Blood of a Poet: OK. I’ll admit it. I just didn’t understand this film. It’s somewhat surreal. It’s poetic. But I’ve never been much for poetry. There’s a lot of stuff that symbolizes …stuff. I don’t know. Some of the imagery is cool. A few sequences are quite nice. Overall, I’ve got no bloody clue what anything meant.
Resident Evil: Retribution: Yeah, this is a bad film. Bad acting, bad dialog, bad effects. But it’s also a great deal of silly fun. The series gets more and more odd and convoluted as time goes one. Elements are written in, then written out with little head for logic or consistency. But whatever. Lots of stuff blows up, lots of kicks happen in slow-mo. It’s great. And stupid. And great.
The Time Machine: “Which three books would you have taken?” Through random happenstance, I saw this favorite again. Man, I love this movie. I remember being somewhat disappointed the first time I saw it, because it missed so much of the book, but getting over myself, I realized it’s a masterpiece. Awesome lead performance from Rod Taylor, great sets, wildly weird music, and a darned fine story. And the Morlocks are so creepy and nasty. So cool.
A Canterbury Tale: “Facts are always important.” While the War wears on, some city folk take refuge in a country town and meet the strange folk who live there. Looking back to the classic literary work, the region around Canterbury becomes a strange sort of Eden where they try to remain sane and safe. I’m fairly certain I didn’t understand a lot of the WWII related, UK related references. But the characters are interesting to watch. The young American soldier reminds me a great deal of David Lynch, with his slightly over-loud mid-westerner voice and ‘aw, shucks’ attitude. One thing is sure, the film looks beautiful.
Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer: An interesting documentary about writer/director Preston Sturges, it reminds me once again that the behind the scenes world is and was often as crazy, wild, and character-filled as anything to hit the screens.
Late Saturday night, I finished a terrifying book, Our Final Invention. I should have finished it a while back, but I got sidetracked with only like 50 pages left. Again, it’s really good. I just got distracted by shiny lights.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
I have found the true heir to H.P. Lovecraft, and it is documentary filmmaker turned herald of the AI apocalypse, James Barrat. No, his book is not a tale of a tortured artist who learns too many of the secrets of the universe and is driven mad by it. Or is it? Whatever the case, he presents a vision of the world so soul searingly, existentially terrifying that it belongs on the shelf with the master of cosmic horror. This is a sobering look at the very real, very possible ending to all of us, building right below our very noses, and under our typing fingertips. For a pro-tech, futurist like myself, this book is a grim dark side for my usual upbeat visions of a world without want.
|One of the less grim scenarios...|
Barrat looks into the building wave of artificial intelligence, the possibilities of human level (and more, superior to human) intelligence, and does not doubt that it’s on the way. What he doubts, is that it will be a good thing. I believe…well, I want to believe…that we’re moving in the right direction (overall), and that the future is bright. I also have an instant mistrust of folks who preach fear of advancements and refuse to look on the bright side of technology. I’ve also never much bought into the idea that superiority equals maliciousness, which is all part of the slave mentality that infects us as a species. That said, I can’t find fault in Barrat’s argument. He makes an excellent case for the terrifying dangers the creation of a human level (or higher) computer mind. The profound alien nature of a computer mind is where the key trouble lies. And this, is where I first connected Barrat with Lovecraft. Both envision something so far beyond our ability to comprehend or control that we would stand no chance against it. The concept I found most chilling is summed up in the quote from Eliezer Yudkowsky. “The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else.” It isn’t that Barrat believes a human or more level intelligence would want to kill us. It’s that it won’t share our interests or values, and we might not be able to even understand what its interests or values are. We may quickly find that we are little more than ants before its unknowing, uncaring feet.
My hope is that we as a people can shift our thinking and action in the direction of safety. I have hope. I do. But I have a profound worry, because I can’t pretend I don’t see the opposite every day. With people steadfastly ignoring scientific findings all the time, from climate change to the benefits of genetically modified foods, and with so many willing to step over their mother for a chance at a few extra bucks, I have worries. And thanks to this book, I find that I have a fear I never knew about. I don’t want to die by incineration from the waste heat of trillions of nanobots assembling each other. That may have just surpassed tidal wave on my list of things I most want to avoid getting killed by.
This book should be read. Futurists and optimists like myself need a dose of reasoned descent on occasion. I think many of us become so inured to the fear mongering, backward looking anti-science of Hollywood movies and uninformed man-on-the-streets, that we build up a wall around our optimism. This wall blocks our view of the very real threats that are out there. With so many people crying wolf constantly, the real problems can easily be ignored. And I think that James Barrat has produced a well thought out and sobering call to action. He doesn’t preach a halt to progress or a return to ‘simpler times.’ He suggests a safe and cautious handling of a potentially cataclysmic technology that would make the atom bomb seem like kids play. He’s not talking about a danger to a city or a country. He’s not even talking about danger to our planet. The kind of scenarios Barrat suggests are existence erasing, galaxy polluting disasters. I do believe that our future will be tied with artificial intelligence, and that future could be amazing on a level beyond the wildest science fiction stories. But the danger must be understood, and we must protect ourselves and our future.
Our Final Invention
Author: James Barrat
Publisher: Thomas Dunn Books